Grandmother tree gets new lease of life

Date completed: October 2017
Location: Old Leechwell Gardens, Totnes
Sectors worked with: Community
Play types encouraged:

Exploratory play

Exploratory play icon

This happens when children decide to investigate their physical surroundings, exploring new spaces and ‘ranging’. What they require are places that provide spatial diversity and interest, opportunities to move into unknown territory and environments that stimulate their curiosity and imagination.

Imaginative play

Imaginative play icon

Playing pretend allows children to stretch their imaginations, create their own worlds and explore real life situations in ways that are manageable for their stage of development. They need flexible environments that they can adapt for their own purposes and which stimulate all the senses.

Quiet play

Quiet play icon

We all need time and space to be still and relax. For children this time is vital for integrating the many sensory impressions they encounter throughout the day. Quiet play allows them to rest, dream and refuel their brains and bodies. They need spaces that feel safe, comfortable and contained.

Social play

Social play icon

Making friends, sharing stories, learning the rules of a new game - children are social beings and play is a perfect way to learn about yourself and other people. In social play children can explore relationship dynamics and learn how to express their needs, establish boundaries and resolve differences.

Physical play

Physical play icon

Children’s minds and bodies grow in relation to their physical environment and require experimentation and challenge to reach their full potential. Physical play helps children understand what their bodies are capable of and allows them to take the necessary risks required for healthy development.

Loose Parts play

Loose Parts play icon

Banging on pots, making mud pies, building dens – these activities teach children about the physical and textural qualities of materials and how different elements fit together. Loose parts play offers sensory pleasure as well as developing hand eye coordination and problem solving skills.


As part of a new housing development we were invited to create a new play area in Leechwell Gardens. Working with the Leechwell Garden Association and the Totnes Development Trust we designed a play space in harmony with the existing layout of the garden.

A huge eucalyptus was being felled as it was in danger of collapsing. We spotted its potential and asked for it to be cut down in one big piece.

We supervised the moving of this tree to its final resting place on a gentle slope. We used it as the core of a climbing structure, adding on climbing holds, balance beams, a net, a roofed den, and some climbing stilts leading to a tractor tyre willow den. It became a climbing structure with lots of different routes around and over it and became the most loved play structure in Totnes. People responded to the idea that this was a huge old grandmother tree and developed a relationship with it. We felt it was respectful to the tree that it didn’t just end up as firewood and got a new lease of life as a play space.

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